American NGO holds fundraiser for survivors

iVolunteer head says challenges that Holocaust survivors encounter in the US are in fact quite similar to those in Israel.

SHEVA TAUBY 370 (photo credit: Courtesy iVolunteer)
(photo credit: Courtesy iVolunteer)
NEW YORK – The American NGO iVolunteer, which provides individual assistance to Holocaust survivors in the US, held its annual fundraising “Light Up the Night” Hanukka gala last week in New York City to raise funds for survivors and increase public awareness of their needs.
Sheva Tauby, who runs the organization with her husband, explained that the help iVolunteer provides ranges from covering certain expenses to volunteers simply going over to the survivors’ homes to keep them company, fix something around the house or call them regularly just to chat and hear their everyday concerns.
“We are involved with very hands-on things. It could be anything like cover a couple of hundred dollars worth of medical expenses that the insurance doesn’t, for example,” she said.
“We help them with everything and anything. It’s kind of like adopting a family member for our volunteers,” Tauby explained. “They’ll sit down with you and tell you stories that really teach you tremendous life lessons.”
In Israel, Holocaust survivors have recently been facing financial obstacles as funding ran out for the reimbursement of their medical expenses – with some even protesting against the shortage in front of the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem two weeks ago.
Tauby explained the challenges that Holocaust survivors encounter in the US are in fact quite similar to those in Israel: “It’s not much different: are they suffering financially? Of course. Are they suffering of loneliness? Of course.”
“We had a survivor who had been staying at home for two months and refused to go outside because she had lost her hair after chemotherapy and was embarrassed to go out; she couldn’t afford a $500 wig.
Within 20 minutes, we made some phone calls to donors and we got one for her,” she said.
“We are here because survivors have needs that no one takes care of.”
The organization, which is composed of about 800 volunteers, relies on private Jewish donors, most of whom are from Manhattan.
“Our budget is extremely modest,” Tauby said, “and a lot more could be done.
Tauby explained that iVolunteer, to her surprise and outrage, gets no help whatsoever from the Claims Conference, a body that represents world Jewry in negotiating for compensation for Holocaust survivors and allocates funds to institutions that provide them with social welfare services.
“There are millions of dollars just sitting there and not going where they should go,” she said. “A lot of times, the Claims Conference was very close to giving us something but at the last minute, they always have some story. If they managed themselves better, the money could be distributed, but they don’t care. I think there are a lot of politics involved.”
Holocaust survivors in the US, just like in Israel, suffer from poverty and difficult financial situations that often prevent them from satisfying their basic needs, according to iVolunteer.
“Some survivors literally need food on the table. The funds are available, that’s not the problem, but they are just not going where they should,” Tauby explained.
“There are a lot of organization out there which, if they were given money, could do a lot,” she added.
“Survivors are aging, they are getting older everyday, what are we doing waiting around?” Despite the struggles and the stress of running the NGO by herself in addition to raising four children, Tauby sees her occupation as a fun, rewarding experience: “I don’t go into it thinking,‘Oh these poor people need my help.’ Our organization is very upbeat, survivors are very strong and lively people, it’s a very upbeat atmosphere,” she said.
Today, iVolunteer also has three branches operating in Toronto and Miami, where there are large survivor communities, as well as in Dallas.